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Apple iOS 8 vs iOS 7

04 Jun 2014

Apple unveiled iOS 8 during its Worldwide Developer Conference on Monday and, while it isn't a drastic overhaul like iOS 7, it will bring lots of new features to the iPhone and iPad.

We've stacked up iOS 8 against last year's release to see what features you can expect.

Apple has made some fairly major tweaks to Notification Center, a feature which was first introduced in iOS 7, and therefore somewhat limited.

Chief among these tweaks is the addition of interactive notifications, which lets you reply to messages or 'Like' a Facebook post, for example, without having to leave the app you're already in.

Apple has also introduced Android-style widgets, which developers can start building to appear in the drop-down menu. Apple's Craig Federighi showed off an eBay app that's already available, which will allow users to bid on items from the notifications screen.

Compare this with iOS 7 and Apple's tweaks will be welcomed by most, with the feature presently limited to viewing notifications and tapping to jump into apps.

Apple's most interesting iOS 8 updates arguably relate to messaging, and the firm has introduced a number of new features.

iOS 8 on an iPhone 5S

First off, Apple introduced Quicktype, a feature that could signal the end of Autocorrect. This is a smart word-prediction service which Apple claims will quickly learn how you talk and what words you're likely to type next, depending on who you're talking to. Support for third-party keyboards was also announced, which means iPhone users can soon opt to replace Apple's proprietary offering with Swiftkey, for example.

Apple also announced that iOS 8 users will be able to use Do Not Disturb on specific group iMessage conversations to silence frustrating notifications. The firm has also introduced a Snapchat-style Destruct feature, allowing users to send images, videos or audio messages that will be automatically deleted, unless specified otherwise.

These features are likely to be welcomed by current users of iOS 7, although the firm has been criticised for "ripping off" features from Snapchat and Whatsapp.

Apple's voice-activated digital assistant, Siri, will see a fairly major update in iOS 8. Mimicking Google Now, users will be able to say "Hey, Siri" to activate the feature, which will soon be capable of recognising songs (thanks to Shazam) and will be able to recognise streaming voice recognition.

Healthkit and Homekit
iOS 7 didn't introduce many new apps from Apple, the firm instead focused on touting its redesign. iOS 8, however, sees the arrival of Healthkit and Homekit, with which Apple is looking to challenge the likes of Samsung while making its mark in the Internet of Things (IoT).

iOS 8 features on iPhone 5S

Healthkit is similar to Samsung's S Health feature, allowing users to track data such as the number of steps walked, calories burned and so on. Unlike the app found on the Galaxy S5, however, Apple's Healthkit app supports third-party apps, including Nike+.

Homekit is Apple's rumoured smart home application, allowing users to easily control internet-connected devices, such as Philips Hue lightbulbs, from their iPhone or iPad.

Apple's Camera application saw a major overhaul in iOS 7, Apple adding features such as photo filters, slow-motion video and the ability to shoot square Instagram friendly photos.

Camera hasn't seen such a huge makeover in iOS 8, but Apple has added a handful of features that are likely to be welcomed by users. New shooting modes will be introduced in iOS 8, including Time Lapse mode and a Timer, and brings Panorama mode to iPad users. An improved Photos interface will also be introduced.

iOS 8 memories photo feature

The biggest news, however, was that Apple has opened its camera controls to developers, which means there's likely to be more to get excited about when the software launches in the autumn.

Mac continuity
If you own a Macbook and an iOS device, iOS 8 will introduce a bunch of features that improve continuity between devices - something almost non-existent, bar iMessage support, in iOS 7.

First off, Airdrop now works between iOS and Mac OS X, which means you'll no longer have to email yourself images, for example, and can instead ping them straight to your Mac. Handoff was perhaps the most impressive feature on show, allowing a user to start writing an email on an iPad, for example, and then easily finish it on their Mac.

Apple also shocked with the news that Mac owners will be able to answer phone calls on their laptop or desktop computer with the introduction of iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, while text message integration has been expanded to non-iOS devices. This sees Apple addressing the long drawn out bug which has seen Android users unable to receive texts from iPhone users.

Although it brushed over the subject during its WWDC keynote, Apple has added a bunch of new enterprise tools in iOS 8, making the operating system much more attractive to businesses when compared with iOS 7.

iPhone 5S iOS 8

First, security within apps has been improved, Apple adding the ability for expanded data protection in the form of password protection of all the major data types - Calendar, Contacts, Mail, Messages, Notes, Reminders - and third-party apps.

Apple has also introduced per-message S/MIME, allowing users to encrypt individual messages, along with VIP threads, a feature that allows users to mark an email thread as important to receive instant notifications on it.

Beyond that, iOS 8 will also bring support for Exchange out of office replies, busy/free notifications in Calendar and encrypted backups, among others.

In Short
Apple's iOS 8 operating system might not seem like a big change aesthetically, but the new features it brings, such as Mac Continuity, improved Notifications and its Healthkit and Homekit apps, are likely to be welcomed by users of last year's iOS iteration.

However, some might be disappointed that Apple hasn't changed its design, with iOS 7 receiving much criticism for its "flat" design and parallax effects, which will remain in iOS 8.

LG G3 hands-on review

28 May 2014

LG has been working hard to increase its presence in the European smartphone market, releasing a steady stream of innovative handsets that challenge existing technology and design conceptions.

This started in 2013 when LG released its G2 smartphone. Featuring top-end internal specifications and a clever design that placed the handset's power and volume controls on the  rear, the G2 was one of 2013's most interesting phones.

The LG G3 follows on from this and aims to refine the user experience debuted on the G2 by adding a number of new technologies that on paper make it one of 2014's highest specced handsets.

Design and build
It's no secret that we here at V3 are big fans of metal smartphones. As we've noted time and time again when testing handsets like the HTC One M8 or Apple iPhone 5S, the use of metal not only makes phones more robust, it makes them feel better quality. As a result we're delighted LG's chosen to redesign the G3 and build its chassis out of metal, as opposed to polycarbonate.LG G3 three quarter

During our hands-on the G3 felt significantly better built than its predecessor, the G2. We were also impressed with the G3's ergonomic curved design which meant that, despite measuring 146x75x8.9mm and weighing 149g, the phone fits neatly into the contours of your hand and never feels unwieldy.

This was helped by the G3's intelligent button placement. The G3 features the same button configuration as on the G2, which places its power and volume buttons on the top of the phone's back. While the placement takes a little time to get used to, as past smartphone designs mean most users will intuitively look for the volume and power buttons along the phone's sides, we found the G3's layout superior and quicker and easier to use one handed.

LG G3 home screen

Smartphone makers in the past might have claimed that the human eye can't discern the difference between resolutions past the 300ppi mark. But LG has moved to quash this claim with the G3, loading the device with a Quad HD, 2560x1440, 538ppi IPS capacitive touchscreen which it said will offer noticeably improved display quality over competing handsets.

LG claims to have increased the G3's screen's pixel per inch count past the 500 mark by reducing the size of displayed pixels by 40 percent, making it the crispest and most vibrant currently available.

Testing the G3's display at the launch event's brightly lit showroom floor, we found that, while colours weren't quite as vibrant as those on competing Super Amoled displays like the Galaxy S5's, the G3's screen is very impressive. Icons and text were sharp and the brightness levels were dazzling.

Operating system and software
The G3 runs Google's Android 4.4.2 KitKat operating system overlaid with LG's custom Graphical User Interface.

Normally we're not big fans of custom skins as the majority either make needless, or detrimental, changes to Android's native UI. LG claims its GUI is designed to do the exact opposite of this and will actually improve Android's native user interface by doing things like using "simpler, cleaner typefaces" and adjusting the menus and settings layouts to reduce clutter.

Testing the G3 we found the custom UI significantly cleaner than some of the skins we've seen, like Huawei Emotion and Samsung Touchwiz, but not significantly better than the vanilla Android version. We also noticed that the G3 comes with a number of bloatware applications, although being fair to LG we were using a Korean demo unit so couldn't tell what many of them were meant to do.

Android's security has been a constant problem hampering business interest in the platform, as the OS' open nature makes it easy for criminals to flood the ecosystem with things like trojanised applications.LG G3 back

Aware of this, LG has worked hard to roll out a number of security services onto the G3. The three most important of these are the G3's Knock Code, Content Lock and Killswitch security services for Android.

Knock Code is an anti-theft feature that unlocks the phone only when the owner taps a certain sequence into the screen. Content Lock lets users encrypt files stored on the G3 and set them to not appear until the phone is connected to a computer, while Killswitch can remotely wipe, lock and disable the G3 should it be lost or stolen.

On paper the combination of security features means that the G3 should be a safer option than most Android smartphones. However, the demo unit we tested had the features disabled and we didn't get a chance to test them during our hands-on.

Despite rumours that the G3 would come loaded with Qualcomm's next-generation Snapdragon 805 chip, the phone uses a 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 processor with 2GB of RAM. On paper this puts the G3 on a par with other 2014 flagships, like the HTC One M8 and Samsung Galaxy S5, which feature identical specifications.

While we're slightly disappointed that the rumours of a newer chip were unfounded, the use of the Snapdragon 801 chip is no bad thing. As we found on past Snapdragon 801 handsets, the G3 was very quick and dealt with all our opening tests hassle free.

During our hands-on the G3 opened applications in seconds and smoothly transitioned between menu screens. Sadly we didn't get a chance to properly benchmark the G3 or see how it dealt with more demanding tasks, like 3D gaming, but will be sure to do so for our full review.

The G3 comes with a 13MP, 4160x3120 rear camera with dual-LED (dual tone) flash, Optical Image Stabilizer Plus and Laser Autofocus and a 2.1MP, 1080p front camera.

LG made a big deal about the G3's Laser Auto Focus technology, claiming that the G3's camera focuses images in 0.276 seconds. While we didn't get a chance to accurately check LG's time claims, we were very impressed with the G3's camera. Snapping images on the showroom floor, the rear camera focused on our intended subject and captured images close to instantly.LG G3 camera hands on

Image quality was fairly impressive and photos shot on the G3 featured decent contrast and brightness levels and looked suitably crisp when viewed on the phone's screen. We'll be interested to see if the image quality remains as good when we blow the images up on bigger displays.

Image quality wasn't stellar when taking a few shots on the G3's front camera, but it was more than good enough for video calling.

Battery and storage
The G3 is one of a select few smartphones to come with wireless charging support so, if you're willing to shell out some extra money for a wireless charging plate, it should be quick and easy to sporadically charge the handset's 3,000mAh battery throughout the day.

The UK version of the G3 will come with just 16GB of internal storage. Luckily users will be able to add a further 128GB using the G3's microSD card slot, meaning they shouldn't have to worry about running out of space.

Overall, our opening impressions of the LG G3 are very positive. Featuring the same intelligent button placement as the G2, but with a redesigned metal chassis that feels sturdier and more top-end than its predecessor's, the G3 is one of the best looking smartphones this year. Add to this its wealth of components, like the Quad HD display, and what appears to be above average rear camera, and we can definitely see the G3 being a contender for phone of the year.

Hopefully the G3 will make good on its opening promise when it is released in the UK in July. However, a big part of its ability to do this will depend on one key factor that LG's keeping quiet about: its price.

Check back with V3 later for a full review of the LG G3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Surface Pro vs Macbook Air

22 May 2014

Microsoft made some pretty bold claims when it unveiled its latest Surface Pro 3 tablet-laptop hybrid on Tuesday. Without a doubt one of the biggest claims was that the Surface Pro 3 will outperform Apple's Macbook Air 13in laptop in close to every way.

Considering the popularity and very recent refresh of the Macbook Air line, many buyers have been left wondering whether the Surface Pro 3 has the on-paper specifications to make good on Microsoft's claim.

Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
Macbook Air 13in: 320x227x17mm, 1.35kg

Apple has constantly prided itself on the Macbook Air designs, claiming that they are among the lightest and most elegant laptops in in the world. Aware of this, Microsoft has looked to outdo Apple, designing the Surface Pro 3 to be lighter and thinner than the Macbook Air 13in.Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Surface Pro 3: 12in ClearType Full HD screen with 2160x1440 resolution
Macbook Air 13in: 13.3in LED-backlit glossy widescreen with 1440x900 resolution

Microsoft has made a lot of claims about the Surface Pro 3's 12in screen, one of the most interesting of which is that, despite being smaller, it will let users view and interact with "six percent more content than they can on a 13in Macbook Air". This is apparently due to its custom 3:2 aspect ratio and, if true, will make the Surface Pro 3's display one of the best currently available on a laptop-tablet hybrid.

Surface Pro 3: Windows 8.1
Macbook Air 13in: Mac OS X Maverick

Both the Surface Pro 3 and Macbook Air 13in run on the latest version of their respective companies' operating systems. This makes picking which is better difficult as the answer is determined mainly by user preference and the ecosystem in which they are already embedded.

Surface Pro 3: Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 options
Macbook Air 13in: Intel Core i5 and i7 options

The Surface Pro 3 comes with more varied chip options than the Macbook Air, being the only one of the two currently available running Intel's affordable Core i3 as well as its more premium Core i5 and Core i7 processors.

Surface Pro 3: 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing
Macbook Air 13in: 720p FaceTime HD front-facing

The Surface Pro 3 is the only one of the two devices to come with a rear camera. However, considering our experience using previous tablet cameras, we're not holding out high hopes regarding the Surface Pro 3's imaging quality.New Apple Macbook Air line-up 13in model

Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB internal storage options
Macbook Air 13in: 128GB or 256GB internal storage options

The Surface Pro 3 comes with a more diverse range of storage options than the Macbook Air 13in. The two devices are also evenly matched when it comes to price, with the 128GB Core i5 model of the Surface Pro 3 and Macbook Air 13in both costing £850. However, for those willing to sacrifice a bit on storage and performance, the Surface Pro 3 is the more affordable option, with the 64GB Intel Core i3 model costing a more modest £639.

Surface Pro 3: Up to nine hours
Macbook Air 13in: Up to 12 hours

On paper the Macbook 13in easily beats the Surface Pro 3 and will last a full three hours longer on one charge.

On paper there is a lot to like about the Surface Pro 3, even when compared with Apple's ever popular Macbook 13in. However, being powered by Windows 8.1, an operating system that is far from universally loved even by diehard Microsoft fans, many may still opt for Apple's current flagship Air laptop irrespective of the two devices' hardware when the Surface Pro 3 is released this August.

Check back with V3 later this year for a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Surface Pro 3 vs Surface Pro 2 spec by spec

21 May 2014

Microsoft's entry into the hardware market was a slightly bumpy one. While taken as a game changer, Microsoft's first ever own-brand Surface Pro featured a number of niggling flaws that hampered its overall appeal, chief of which was its poor battery life.

Luckily, one year on Microsoft learned from its mistakes and released what in many people's eyes, including us here at V3, was one of the finest tablet-laptop hybrids, the Surface Pro 2. As a result, with Microsoft having once again chosen to radically rework the design of its latest Surface Pro 3, many have justifiably wondered how the new hybrid compares with its predecessor.

Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
Surface Pro 2: 274x173x13.5mm, 907g

Despite featuring a similar magnesium chassis and set of port options, the Surface Pro 3 is significantly bigger than its predecessor. Making up for this, though, unlike the Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 3's Kickstand isn't limited to two standing options and can be set to a variety of angles, meaning it should be more pleasant to use as a laptop.Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Surface Pro 3: 12in ClearType Full HD screen with 2160x1440 resolution
Surface Pro 2: 10.6in ClearType Full HD screen with 1920x1080 resolution

Microsoft claims that, as well as being 38 per cent bigger than the Surface Pro 2's, the Surface Pro 3's 12in display is able to display twice as many pixels. If true the display will be one of the best seen on any Windows 8.1 tablet.

Surface Pro 3: Windows 8.1
Surface Pro 2: Windows 8.1

Both of Microsoft's Surface Pro tablets run the latest Windows 8.1 software version. However, the Surface Pro 3's larger display is likely to make using Windows 8.1 in the desktop mode more pleasant than it is on the Surface Pro 2.

Surface Pro 3: Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 options
Surface Pro 2: Intel Haswell 1.6 GHz Core i5-4200U

The Surface Pro 3 is available with a variety of chip models. Microsoft claims that the top Intel Core i7 Surface Pro 3 option will offer 10 percent better performance than the Surface Pro 2.

Surface Pro 3: 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing
Surface Pro 2: 3.5MP 1080p rear-facing and 720p front-facing

Taking photos on tablets is never a pleasant experience but, as we noted in our review, the Surface Pro 2 was particularly bad at it. Coming with a higher megapixel rear camera, the Surface Pro 3 will hopefully offer better imaging performance.

Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB internal storage options
Surface Pro 2: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB, 512GB internal storage options

Despite offering the same set of storage options, the Surface Pro 3 is the more affordable option thanks to its more varied chip offering, with prices starting at for £639 for the 64GB Intel Core i3 model. By comparison the 64GB Surface Pro 2 costs £720.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2

Surface Pro 3: Up to nine hours' web browsing
Surface Pro 2: Up to eight hours in our tests

Microsoft claims that the Surface Pro 3 will offer superior battery life to its predecessor and will last up to nine hours from one charge. During our tests, the Surface Pro 2 generally lasted around seven to eight hours.

On paper the Surface Pro 3 is a significant step-up from the Surface Pro 2, offering a more diverse range of chip options, larger and crisper display, and significantly lower starting price.

Hopefully, the Surface Pro 3 will make good on its on-paper promise when it arrives in the UK this August. Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Surface Pro 3 vs iPad Air spec by spec

20 May 2014

Microsoft made a big deal about its Surface Pro 3 when it unveiled it at its New York press event on Tuesday, claiming it will easily outperform all of its key rivals as both a tablet and a laptop. This has led many buyers to wonder how the new productivity focused Surface Pro 3 compares to the current ruler of the tablet market, the Apple iPad Air.

Surface Pro 3: 292x201x9.1mm, 800g
iPad Air: 240x170x7.5mm, 468g

Packing a sizable 12in display and robust magnesium chassis, the Surface Pro 3 is significantly heavier than the iPad Air. That said, it does have more connectivity options than the iPad Air, coming loaded with full-sized USB 3.0 ports, a microSD card slot and a mini Displayport. By comparison the iPad Air only has a Lightning port.Microsoft Surface Pro 3

Surface Pro 3: 12in ClearType Full HD screen with 2160x1440 resolution
iPad Air: 9.7in 1536x2048, 263ppi in-plane switching (IPS) LCD Retina display

Microsoft made a big deal about the Surface Pro 3's 12in display claiming that as well as being 38 per cent larger than the previous Surface Pro screen it is also able to display twice as many pixels.

That said, it will still have a tough time dethroning the iPad Air, as its 9in Retina Display remains one of the sharpest and crispest seen on a large tablet.

Surface Pro 3: Windows 8.1
iPad Air: iOS 7

Microsoft designed the Surface Pro to function as a laptop as well as tablet and has loaded it with its full Windows 8.1 operating system. This means that on paper it could offer better productivity services and applications than the iPad Air, which runs the latest version of Apple's iOS mobile operating system.

Surface Pro 3: Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 options
iPad Air: A7

The Surface Pro is available with fourth generation Intel Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 chip options. This means, despite Apple iOS being significantly less demanding to run than Windows 8.1, the Surface Pro 3 should offer superior performance to the iPad Air, which is powered by an A7 mobile processor.Apple's iPad Air has a 9.7in Retina display

Surface Pro 3: 5MP and 1080p HD front- and rear-facing
iPad Air: 5MP iSight rear and HD Facetime front

Both the Surface Pro 3 and iPad Air come loaded with 5MP rear cameras. This means we won't be able to call which is better until we've had some hands on time with the new Microsoft tablet.

Surface Pro 3: 64GB, 128GB, 256GB and 512GB internal storage options
iPad Air: 16GB, 32GB, 64GB and 128GB internal storage options

The Surface Pro 3 comes with a more robust set of internal storage options. It also competes with the iPad Air on price, with the cheapest 64GB model costing $799 (£475). Pricing of the equivalent 64GB iPad Air model starts at £479.

Surface Pro 3: Nine hours
iPad Air: 10 hours

On paper the iPad Air will last an hour longer than the Surface Pro 3, though we won't be able to tell if this is true until we've had a chance to battery burn the two tablets.

When viewed purely from a specification standpoint, the Surface Pro 3 is a seriously impressive device that does beat the Apple iPad Air. However, as we've seen with past Surface tablets, its focus on working as a laptop replacement could lead to some issues that make it less pleasant to use as a tablet than the iPad Air.

The Surface Pro 3 is set for release in the UK "by August." Check back with V3 closer to the time for a full review of the Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Motorola Moto E hands-on review

19 May 2014

Motorola unveiled the Motorola Moto E last week, an affordable Android 4.4 KitKat smartphone on sale now that it hopes will enjoy the same success as last year's Motorola Moto G.

The £89 Motorola Moto E is even cheaper than the Moto G, which Motorola recently called its "best-selling smartphone ever". With the Moto E, Motorola is looking to kill off the feature phone, and with the handset boasting such a low price, it might just manage to do it.

The Motorola Moto E doesn't feel like a sub-£100 phone when you hold it. The device is built of toughened plastic that feels robust and doesn't creak like some other budget smartphones. It's a nice-sized phone too, with its arched rear casing making it rest comfortably in the palm.

Motorola Moto E design

Motorola boasted that the Moto E features a water-resistant nano-material coating, which means it should survive the occasional splash. We have yet to test this feature, but will be sure to do so in our full Moto E review. Although Motorola has given the front of the Moto E a smudge-proof coating, we found the rear of the device susceptible to fingerprints.

The Moto E also comes with support for Motorola's snap covers, which means that users will be able to customise the device with nine different coloured shells or opt for one of Motorola's three rugged alternatives.

The Motorola Moto E has a 4.3in 960x540 resolution display, giving the handset a pixel density of 256ppi. While this makes the display on the Moto E good for a phone at this price point, the lack of HD resolution is noticeable, with the screen looking somewhat dull and grainy.

Motorola Moto E with Android 4.4 Kitkat and 4.3in screen

One thing we do like about the display, however, is its tiny bezel, with the Moto E's front offering an almost full-display experience.

Software and performance
Despite costing just £89, the Moto E runs Google's latest Android 4.4 KitKat mobile operating system, with Motorola hinting that, thanks to its barely-there custom skin, it will be quick to receive future updates too.

While Motorola's custom user interface is hardly noticeable, the firm has equipped the phone with a handful of software add-ons. There's a new addition called Motorola Alerts, a location-based app that enables Moto E users to notify friends and family that they have arrived at places safely, while also offering the options to send emergency messages and requests to meet. Moto Migrate is also included, making it easy for users to switch from a different phone.

Beyond that, you won't find much from Motorola supplementing Google's features. With the firm clearly aiming this smartphone at first-time smartphone buyers, this is a clever move on Motorola's part, with the handset offering an uncluttered, easy-to-use interface, which cannot be said for smartphones sold by Sony and Samsung, for example.

The Motorola Moto E has a not very exciting dual-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 200 processor and 1GB of RAM. We haven't spent much time with the Moto E yet so it's hard to judge how it will perform in the real world. However, upon opening the web browser and firing up applications such as Angry Birds Star Wars, the Moto E did show signs of lagging and stuttering, although general swiping and tapping seemed smooth enough.

On its rear, the Moto E has a 5MP camera without flash, and there is no accompanying front-facing camera. The lack of a front-facing camera on a phone at this price shouldn't have anybody upset, and on first impressions we found the rear-facing camera performed reasonably well. Motorola has made some handy changes to the camera app that make it much easier to change settings, too.

First impressions
While it has its downsides, it's hard not to warm to the the Motorola Moto E. Undoubtedly, the smartphone is one of the best at its price point, and is likely to win over buyers looking for an affordable, no-frills handset.

Check back soon for our full Motorola Moto E review. 

Huawei Ascend P7 hands-on review

08 May 2014

PARIS: Chinese tech giant Huawei has stepped up its push to wrestle control of the UK smartphone market from Samsung and Apple with the unveiling of its latest flagship Ascend P7 handset.

Huawei claims that despite retailing for a modest €450 (about £370), the Ascend P7's advanced imaging and 4G technologies make it more than a match for the Samsung Galaxy S5 and Apple iPhone 5S.

Design and build
The Ascend P7 adheres to the same design philosophy as its predecessor, having been built to be as light and thin as possible. At just 6.5mm thick and weighing 124g, the Ascend P7 is significantly thinner and lighter than competing Android handsets, but it's not as light as the 112g Apple iPhone 5S.Huawei Ascend P7 three quarter
Like the Ascend P6, the P7's top and sides are slightly sharp while its bottom edge is rounded. The front and back are covered in Gorilla glass, which feels nice but tends to show up fingerprints. Despite its slightly sharp sides, the device is fairly comfortable to hold. It also felt fairly solid and capable of surviving the odd accidental bump and scrape.

This year has already seen an influx of handsets boasting superb displays. Not to be outdone, Huawei has loaded the Ascend P7 with a 5in 1920x1080 IPS, 441ppi screen that performed impressively during our hands-on, with icons and text looking sharp and clear even under the showroom's bright lights.

Huawei Ascend P7 front

Colours were generally vibrant and rich, but when hit by direct sunlight the display became reflective and all but impossible to use - though being fair to Huawei this is an issue we experience on 99 percent of the smartphones we review.

Operating system and software
The Ascend P7 comes running Google Android 4.4.2 KitKat overlaid with Huawei's custom Emotion UI 2.3 skin. While we're pleased to see the use of KitKat, the inclusion of Emotion UI is less appealing.

This is because Emotion UI reworks Android's user interface to the point it is all but unrecognisable. Emotion UI replaces all application shortcut icons with custom alternatives and moves the location of many key menus and settings options. The skin also removes Android's native app tray feature and places all installed applications on the main menu screens - as they are on Apple iOS. The changes are generally to the detriment of the operating system and make Android far less intuitive to use.

This heavy-handed approach to skinning the OS will also impact the phone's ability to receive Android updates as Emotion's code will have to be tweaked to work with every new release from Google - a practice that could take weeks, or even months.

Unlike most 2014 flagship smartphones, the Ascend P7 is not powered by Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 801 processor and instead runs on Huawei's own 1.8GHz quad core HiSilicon Kirin 910T processor.

We were impressed with the handset's performance. Featuring 2GB of RAM, the Ascend P7 ran smoothly, and opened applications and webpages close to instantly both on the showroom WiFi and outside on Three's 4G network.

Huawei Ascend P7 back

We haven't yet had a chance to test how the Ascend P7 coped with more demanding tasks like 3D gaming, or benchmark the handset during our hands-on but will be sure to do so for our full review.

Huawei made a big deal about the Ascend P7's 13MP rear and 8MP front cameras during the phone's Paris unveiling, claiming they will offer better imaging quality than the Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S. This is thanks in part to the device's DSLR level Image Signal Processor (ISP), which Huawei claims radically improves low-light performance. We were impressed how well the Ascend P7's rear camera performed. During our opening tests images shot around Paris in bright sunlight looked crisp and featured decent contrast and colour balance levels.

The 8MP front camera also performed very well and actually managed to match the performance of many 2013 smartphones' primary rear cameras during our opening test shots.

Battery and storage
The Ascend P7 is powered by a 2,500mAh battery that Huawei lists as offering users 14 hours' talk time. If accurate, the figure means the Ascend P7 should offer above average battery life. We didn't get a chance to test battery life during our hands-on but will be sure to do so come our full review.Huawei Ascend P7 side

The Huawei Ascend P7 review unit we tested came with 16GB of inbuilt storage. Further storage can be added using its microSD card slot, meaning most users shouldn't have to worry about running out of space.

Set for release in the UK this month, the Huawei Ascend P7 delivers the kind of performance and imaging quality usually seen on handsets costing as much as £200 more.

Our only significant gripe so far is with its less than stellar Emotion skin, which as well as making the Ascend P7 slightly unintuitive to use, will also undoubtedly hamper its ability to receive software updates from Google.

Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Huawei Ascend P7.

By V3's Alastair Stevenson

Firefox 29 hands-on review

30 Apr 2014

Since the beta of Firefox 29 launched earlier this year, Mozilla fans have been rushing to test out the new web browser. With Firefox 29 now out in its final release version, it's clear why, with Mozilla having added a host of improvements that make the browser on paper one of the most advanced and flexible currently available.

User interface
Firefox 29 features a completely redesigned user interface designed to help users browse the web more efficiently.

The most obvious changes include the the bookmark manager's move to be next to the bookmark star in the Firefox toolbar, the migration of the Firefox menu button to the right corner of the toolbar and a redesigned home page that gives you one-click access to key functions such as "Downloads", "Bookmarks" and "Add-ons".Firefox 29 beta

Past this, Firefox 29 also features a number of more subtle changes that, while small, make using the browser more pleasant. One of the biggest of these is the new tab page, which automatically displays thumbnails of frequently visited sites.

Firefox 29 also adds a new Customise option that lets users tweak the browser's interface by manually dragging and dropping commonly used features into the UI.

Firefox 29 adds Mozilla's reworked Firefox Sync service. The new synchronisation feature is similar to that seen on Google Chrome and requires users to set up a Firefox Account. The account stores and synchronises information from various Firefox services like bookmarks, history, and any open tabs across any device the user is logged into.

Add-ons and extras
As well as its reworked interface, Firefox 29 adds several useful under the hood technical upgrades. These include the ability to open and read PDF files without having to install a third-party add-on, as well as new WebRTC framework support. The WebRTC framework adds direct support for in-browser audio and video chats.Firefox browser beta

Firefox 29 also features all the standard essential features including a powerful search bar, pop-up blocker, integrated web search functionality and RSS feed reader.

Security and privacy
Outside of Firefox 29's productivity upgrades, Mozilla's also worked hard to improve the browser's security and privacy services. Firefox 29 features a new private browsing tab option, which offers similar services to Google Chrome's "incognito" mode. The option opens up a private tab that doesn't save any browser or search activity carried out in it.

The browser also includes options that will instruct Firefox 29 to block known malicious sites and alert its user if it detects nefarious activity, like an add-on or site instructing it to do something like change the default search provider without permission. Firefox 29 can also be set up to block outdated web plugins such as Flash and Java from opening content, reducing the users' chance of being hit by hackers targeting older exploits in the services.

Our opening time with Firefox 29 has been positive. Featuring a significantly more user-friendly, customisable interface and variety of under the hood productivity and security upgrades, Firefox 29 is a solid choice for any web user. However, with many of the features already having appeared on competing browsers, like Google Chrome, some users may struggle to find any reason to jump ship to Firefox.

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